Basketball season is drawing near, and I'm trying to get familiar with the incoming freshmen. In previous years, this process generally consisted of me watching a Youtube clip or two and texting friends who pay attention to players before they actually set foot on campus. I relied on their input and the fact that Longhorn fans don't realize there's a basketball team until January as a chance to ramp up on my own. (One of the perks of being a guy writing about a team that gets a minority of the fan attention is there are less people around to notice how incredibly wrong you are about a new player. Seriously, check out the shit I said about Zay before his freshman year. Or better yet, don't. Forget that link exists.) I'd say I was putting in a solid C+ level of effort, riding the waves of familiar Rick Barnes waters.
Well, now everything's different. There's a new coach, a new staff, and a new offensive & defensive system to learn. I'm cajoled out of my peaceful August slumber as Shaka Smart pours water on my head, informing me that there's a kilo of Columbian bam-bam strapped to the bottom of my muscle car. I've gotta learn how to drive fast again. So here I am, putting in a spectacular B- level effort, watching clips of Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., & Tevin Mack(probably also a Jr.), trying to break down film while sweating like Todd Wright's holding a kettlebell over my testicles and threatening to let go if I can't recite all 50 state capitals(NYC, NO BUFFALO WAIT IS TORONTO IN NEW YORK).
Here's what I've learned: most of these videos are bullshit. The majority of these videos aren't really film in any useful sense, they're 'mixtapes' meant to make every player look like the next Russell Westbrook or LeBron James or perhaps Jesus. These videos are propaganda that make Vladmir Putin blush; they're full of dunks and threes and dunks and steals and dunks and maybe one outlet pass that results in a dunk. The only time they make a highly recruited kid look bad is when he happens to feature in the mixtape of another highly recruited kid. (You can bet your sweet ass Seventh Woods' family isn't tweeting that link to Coach K.) And if you want to see a kid set a screen or play help defense that doesn't feature him swatting a ball to the ionosphere well good luck with that. Occasionally you can find a video featuring actual in-game play that yields interesting data points and isn't backed by a rap track Master P's kid made while drunk in Dad's studio and thank god for those videos. But you're still dealing with the statistician's dreaded enemy: small sample sizes. I get to see 40 or 50 plays out of a calendar year, half of which were filmed by a distracted Michael J. Fox. I feel like I know less about these guys than before I started.
I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that anybody who says they can project the future success of a recruit with 100% certainty either has a copy of Marty McFly's betting almanac or is lying to you. Outside of a Kevin Durant-level recruit, they all look terrible and incredible at the same time. You see a kid nail 8 threes in one clip, but his shooting motion looks like Shawn Marion with scurvy and his feet are close enough that you could tie his shoes together. You see a kid steal a pass, but the pass was tossed by a 5'4" high school freshman with a 40 mph fastball. You see another kid fly through the air for a windmill dunk and...alright, that looked pretty great. The end result is I stop focusing on the game action - because who needs another windmill in their life - and break the player down into component parts. How do they move their feet? How's their arm extension when they shoot? Does the ball rotate enough in the air? How high is their dribble? Getting a sense of the individual pieces helps create a picture of what Shaka's staff will have to address in practice and will give you some sense as to how quickly the kid will see significant minutes. But will it predict their success once they're on the court? Not really, no. So when you get answers from me on players that involve heavy use of caveats (probably, maybe, could be, etc.), it's because speaking in absolutes is for people who can make a living no matter how much they're wrong, like politicians. Or Pete Delkus.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to watch Kerwin Roach steal this kid's soul.